Disclaimer 2: The character of Raeyen is all mine? so hands off.
Disclaimer 3: This story contains scenes of graphic violence, you have been warned.
Author's Note: : Just had to make sure Amarice was remembered, because Jennifer Sky is 'my woman'. Special thanks (?) to Fuzz who broke the news to me!
Spoilers: This story depicts events before the fifth season episode 'Lifeblood' and contains spoilers.
Any Mail or Comments to: email@example.com
A NEW LIFE
The mild yet persistent heat of the late afternoon was bearing down hard on the two women who were engaged in a wildly spinning fight across the open courtyard. The dry air was thick with kicked up dirt, coating the combatants in reddish dust which clung to sweat slicked, aching limbs.
Both were clothed in light armour and loose fitting leathers that allowed for the freedom of their agile movements and graceful sweeps of fighting staffs. Only the sounds of their stormy dance echoed in the sky, those evoked from the women were faintly ragged breathing and the half-caught gasps when a staff connected with bone. There was nothing to be heard from the surrounding forest, or the nearby village. It was as though silence had fallen to preserve the fighters' attentions on the ongoing conflict.
Raeyen, the smaller of the pair, was a young amazon still in her training as a warrior. Eagerness and the untamed strength of her youth keep her in rhythm with her opponent. The other woman however seemed more tempered in her attacks. When the few, well-aimed strikes Rayen delivered hit their target the auburn haired warrior would recoil slightly but never once took her light-hazel eyes from the girl's returned gaze.
Raeyen felt as though she was simply being played with, baited into each and every move in response to her opponent. Taking a deep breath she abated her offensive moves to watch the other woman with more ease.
The few years that separated them in age seemed to lend themselves to the other woman's stance, attitude and most definitely her skills. As they fought Raeyen saw that she was always poised for the defence or attack; movement simply flowed through her so that even with her body calm the worked muscles rippled with a waiting force.
In watching however, the girl could make out her rival's weakness for favouring her right side; a lifetime of watching her mothers, aunts and sisters had taught Raeyen that such a stance came from carrying a sword in battle with little use of other weapons.
Dark hair trailed before her eyes and she shook her head to regain a clear vision. The young amazon took her advantage, putting all her efforts into attacking to the right and raining several blows just below the other woman's ribs, whilst bidding her time to make the surprise attack in striking for the left side.
Raeyen's failure was in not realising the ploy to catch her unguarded. As the amazon moved in to make her final strike her opponent blocked, shifted position with a practised grace, and with a sweep of her staff, brought Reayen's legs out from under her. The girl landed in the dirt with an audible thud.
Amarice looked down at her sparring partner. The younger amazon's jet black hair was tousled and streaks clung to her sweat dampened face and her cobalt blue eyes brimmed with defiance. Such resemblance's would have reminded Amarice of her friend Xena, but for the fact that Raeyen was much smaller in build and the girl's eyes had a different kind of intensity, swirling in a richer colour than the Warrior Princess' icy blues.
And of course Xena would not have been left flat on her back by one of Amarice's blows.
The young warrior reached a hand out to her fallen companion, only to have it swiped away. She stood there a moment regarding the raven haired girl before raising an eyebrow in question.
"Isn't that your wife I hear calling? Better run and see what she wants warrior," Raeyen said sulkily, though her eyes glistened with mischief.
Amarice's fighting skills may be able to take her down thought the younger woman, but Raeyen still held certain advantages over the shamaness' consort.
Shaking her head and causing auburn locks to fall before her eyes, Amarice again offered her hand. This time Raeyen took it without hesitation, getting a solid hold of the other amazon's wrist. As she got to her feet, the dark haired girl was pulled closer into Amarice till their faces were merely inches apart.
"You're a bad loser, you know that?" Amarice laughed at her sparring partner.
Raeyen grinned back at her friend. "Remember, I'm only the bad loser because you always win."
That's true enough, Amarice thought to herself. Since her decision to stay with the Northern tribe the young woman had claimed her right as a true amazon. Wanting to prove, if only to herself, she was worthy of Gabrielle's offering of sisterhood, Amarice had since become a member of the Royal Guard and one of the tribe's best and most respected warriors. The challenges and conflict she had faced in following this path had put her against herself as much as others.
But Amarice's greatest win had been that of Yakut's love and devotion. The triumph that she had not even sought was the most prized and beloved she had achieved, the tribe's young queen's heart.
The sun had almost set by the time Amarice made it back to her hut, the village now cast in the rich terracotta of the fading light. Stepping over the threshold she slung the leather armour she had been wearing on top of her shirt over the nearest chair and propped the fighting staff in the corner of the entrance room.
Pushing the heavy oak door closed the exhausted warrior headed towards the bathing chamber, seeing the light of softly burning torches reaching past the curtained doorway. Moving aside the material Amarice strode inside to find Yakut already submersed in steaming, fresh water, waiting for her.
Smiling appreciation to her lover, Amarice wearily tried to remove her boots, bending down and struggling with not only the knotted laces but also her balance. Stumbling slightly the warrior regained her equilibrium by resting one hand on the side of the tub, raising her head she shook the hair away from her eyes to look at Yakut.
The elder woman sat relaxed against the back of the bath, her hair dark and skin shining with moisture. Yakut had been simply watching her spouse in silence, an amused look on her features, though she finally relented at Amarice's sulking expression. She leaned forward, pushing small waves through the water.
"Need a hand with that?" Amarice's lips split with a grin. Yakut just shook her head in exasperation; no doubt that had been her lover's intentions all along.
The young Queen climbed out to strip her wife of her remaining clothes, first tackling the buttons of the cream coloured shirt to expose firm breasts and allowing her fingers to briefly graze across the soft flesh. Then Yakut finished unlacing the knee-high boots, allowing the removal of Amarice's trousers to reveal the lightly bronzed, toned legs and stomach beneath.
When they were both standing naked Amarice pulled Yakut into her arms feeling the heat of the other woman's skin as well as the water dripping from her. Her hands began to wander across the other woman's back and down her thighs as Yakut rested her lips against Amarice's ear to whisper? "Wash. Now."
Amarice reluctantly pulled away from Yakut, the shorter woman then pushed her teasingly towards the water. "What exactly are you implying?" Amarice asked as they both climbed in and she felt the heat immediately beginning to ease the tension of her aching muscles.
"I'm not implying anything, Amarice. You stink." Yakut smiled back at her. "Get over here."
Pulling Amarice towards her, Yakut took a cloth and soap from the side of the bath and began to apply the rich lather to her lover's body. With Amarice held close, the shamaness languished attention on her neck and back long after removing the dirt and sweat.
"How did the training go?"
"Raeyen's really coming along." Amarice answered, moaning slightly then as Yakut's fingers brushed a sensitive spot at the back of her neck. "I learnt something too."
Turning round to face Yakut, Amarice reached her arms beneath the baths waters to take hold of her. Slowly moving in the women met in a gentle, yet searing kiss. Pulling away just enough to allow the breath to pass between their lips, Amarice managed to answer, "that I'm lucky to have you."
"You learnt that playing in the dirt with Raeyen?"
Shifting positions Amarice took hold of the cloth and began to wash Yakut with as much care and attention as the shamaness had lavished on her. Having been through a cleansing ritual that afternoon though the muscles in her shoulders and neck where Amarice's fingers played were relaxed and supple, not tense as her wife's had been.
"I had a vision during the ritual today," Yakut muttered, her eyes closed as she leant back into the warrior's massaging touch. "I saw Xena and Gabrielle coming back to the village."
Abruptly the massaging stopped as the auburn haired woman's mind raced with sudden worry. When Amarice had decided to stay on in the village, Xena and Gabrielle had been heading back to Greece to have the baby. Why would they be travelling back here so soon? Possibly Alti was again trying to attack the child and they needed Yakut's help.
"Were they? are they okay? I mean the baby?"
Yakut cut her off before she could finish, "Xena's fine and so is the baby. They're bringing her with them."
It took a brief second for Yakut's words to register; when they did a smile spread across Amarice's face and lit her eyes. "A girl?"
Before any more could be said they were interrupted by a loud, insistent knock at the door. As Yakut reached beside the bath for a towel both women became aware of noises increasing from outside, the sounds of frantic activity.
With the thick cloth wrapped firmly around her body, Yakut hurriedly left the chamber. As Amarice remained, grabbing for her strewn clothes, she tried to make out the conversation taking place in the outer room. Kayla, another of the Royal Guard, had come to get both the Queen and warrior, Amarice hearing only that a seriously wounded scout had returned to the village from patrol.
Finally clothed Amarice approached the door in time to hear the other warrior conclude, "it's a call to battle."
DEATH IS CALLING
Firelights illuminated the early evening sky as the warriors of the tribe made their preparations. In the dusty courtyard that mere candle marks ago had been a training ground for Raeyen and Amarice, a playground, weapons were being prepared and horses tacked and mounted.
Raeyen stood uneasily, rubbing the nose of her dark grey mare, Eponin. The wiry horse was one of the smallest and youngest of the tribe's war-horses and when her training began the girl had felt an affinity right away. Now she whispered to Eponin, keeping her calm, as the horse snorted nervously and shifted her front hoof in the dust. Tonight they would both be fresh into battle and as Raeyen cast glances over the others she hoped none would notice her and Eponin's growing agitation.
The girl noticed nearby the Queen with her arms around the slightly taller Amarice as they said their goodbyes. She soon returned her attention to her horse rather than watching her friends or any of the other couples in such similar embraces.
"Look after her." Yakut indicated subtly in the direction of the would-be warrior now climbing on to her horse.
" Not a scratch, I promise."
About to ask the same of her consort, Yakut couldn't find the words she had been determined to say and it left them both caught in silence. Amarice could tell her spouse was struggling with trying to say goodbye so she leaned in and took Yakut firmly into her arms, resting her chin on soft hair before tilting her head down to kiss the shamaness.
"I love you." The warrior murmured against Yakut's lips.
Then she promptly climbed on to her own horse, briefly taking hold of Yakut's hand and looking down at her wife. With the others all now mounted and beginning to head east out of the village, Amarice's stallion began to move forward and the women's entwined fingers were inescapably drawn apart. Without turning from the horizon Amarice then spurred his sides with a swift kick.
As the war party rode out past the village boundary Amarice put her hand beneath her armour, feeling for the necklace that lay in her shirt pocket. Her hand wrapped around the string of wooden beads that were laced together on a leather strap, letting her fingers travel over each of them. She knew the different feel of every one, knew that each represented a life, each one a part of Gabrielle and by her gift now a part of Amarice also. There was one bead however, which she had not yet drawn to memory, one that represented a new life.
The young warrior could feel a certainty, a sickening, steadfast ache in the pit of her stomach, that told her she wouldn't know this new life. Though she hadn't told Yakut, as soon as she had heard Kayla's words she somehow knew she would not be coming back from this fight. She wouldn't be in the village to greet Gabrielle and Xena when they returned with their baby daughter.
Taking out the necklace she called up front, "Raeyen."
The girl was riding just slightly ahead of her, and at the call of her name pulled back on Eponin's reigns to bring herself level with the other woman.
Amarice held out her hand, the necklace twined between her fingers. "I need you to take this for me and give it to Yakut. She'll know who it's to be passed onto."
Raeyen simply stared dumbfounded at her friend, but only for a brief second. Then her brows furrowed in anger. The simple request seemed to send everything crashing in around the younger woman, that her faith in not only another's ability but also her own, could be shaken so easily. How could Amarice ask her this? And right now?
"I'm not gonna take it," Raeyen protested, her blue eyes burning with fierce defiance.
Amarice knew that defiance was directed at her words and she certainly didn't want to fight it or the girl's stubborn determination, even though she knew trying to avoid or defeat the inevitable was pointless. But she certainly didn't need to lead Raeyen into battle with the same sense of inevitability, which would surely take the dark haired girl into the amazon land of the dead with her. So nodding silently at Raeyen she pulled back her hand, returning the necklace beneath her armour.
There was blood and noise everywhere. At Amarice's feet lay the body of a man, spilling his innards onto the sodden ground. There shouldn't be time allowed for grief in battle but Amarice allowed it, it had been what Gabrielle had taught her and there was no other way she knew.
Caught by surprise, Amarice fell forwards to her knees at a blow to the back of her head from a sword hilt. The warrior then found herself beaten into the dirt by a series of strikes to both her upper and lower body. Struggling to recover her equilibrium and clear vision the amazon rolled onto her back to face her attacker, then bringing up her sword. Though, still groggy she couldn't manage to keep her grip on the hilt as the blade was kicked from her hold.
Amarice got to her feet with the renewed vigour of pumping adrenaline but just as she did suddenly felt as though she were falling fast. Dropping her head, the young woman looked down to see a sword protruding from just below her chest. She didn't even raise her head to see the attacker's depraved grin as he drove the weapon into flesh and bone. All Amarice saw was blinding light.
The darkness of the hut was filled with the heavy presence of beating music and the thick light from wall mounted torches.
"Do you Pledge your Allegiance?" Spoke a voice from behind her, commanding she answer.
This time it was her own words that echoed. "To the Nation, the Tribe, my Queen and my Sisters."
Then there was the coldness of a blade against her skin followed by only heat as a knife sliced into her upper forearm. Again the hidden voice, softer, stronger. "For love."
Amarice's opponent delivered a vicious kick to her shoulder, dislocating the joint and tearing flesh and muscle. A wrenching scream from the woman barely drowned out the sound of bone being cracked.
Then another burning cut, the same sharp and focused abuse of her skin, just below the first. And again the voice, protective, urging. "For honour."
A second kick against the broken shoulder brought an agony that for a moment washed over even that focused around Amarice's chest. That was until the piercing metal inside of her was driven further forward, twisted, pushed up to open the wound further, and finally pulled back into her enemy's grasp and out of her body.
For Amarice the world didn't black out, just faded into torment. Then, in relief to her torn body, there was only one pain.
A ceremonial dagger, ornate and delicate, cut swiftly across her palm. Raising her anguished face the young woman locked eyes with Yakut as their hands entwined in a similar embrace and were bound together by blood.
TAKE ME HOME
Though adrenaline was still running a fierce course through Raeyen's veins, the sickness and fatigue of battle was stronger in its commands over the young warrior. Her legs finally gave way beneath her and the girl collapsed beside the nearest tree, falling heavily to the ground.
Her eyes closed briefly and a fleeting silence fell as her mind drifted from the echo of metal upon metal, war cries and the wild pace of the horses. The peace was broken with the pain that throbbed in her left arm, a laceration resulting from a miscalculated defence which was slowly seeping blood into leather. Raeyen felt queasy from simply looking at the wound and tried to take a deep, calming breath. The young amazon however found herself choking on the stale scent of blood and sweat.
A moan from beside her brought back the raven haired girl's senses to the battleground and she snapped her head around to find another wounded amazon; the warrior was resting with her back against one of the large roots which rose out from the earth.
A racking cough came from the woman's throat, dragging blood up past her lips. Her head turned towards the dirt as strings of the congealed liquid fell from her lips. Rising with another cough and a bitten back cry of pain her face was finally caught within Raeyen's gaze.
Breath barely escaped the young woman's lips, "Sweet Artemis!"
Scrabbling quickly to the other woman's side, Raeyen took Amarice into her lap. The sudden jerking movement pulled an aching groan from the other amazon's lips and prompted mumbled apologies from the dark girl.
"It's okay. You're gonna be fine. The fighting's over." Frantically the young warrior was already looking around the remnants of the battlefield for the regrouping amazons.
"We'll get back to the village. And? and you'll be fine." It was a mantra that was already sounding so certain in her head but she couldn't help the words being spoken in a wavering, broken voice.
With no sight yet of the others Raeyen tore her gaze away from the trees to look down at Amarice. Her friend was already staring back at her with mournful mahogany eyes. Though the pain was close to unbearable, Amarice kept her mind calm, if only to help her young companion. But she knew trying to comfort the dark haired girl by lying was not an option. Auburn hair spilled across her bloodied face as the elder amazon shook her head gently at Raeyen's reassurances.
"No. Please, Amarice. You can't die, you can't. You always win remember."
Hot tears were spilling freely now as she wiped the sweat and dirt streaked strands of hair from Amarice's face.
Grunting with the effort of trying to work her tired limbs and against the agony of the wound in her chest, Amarice reached under her torn shirt. Holding her clenched hand out weakly, Raeyen understood and took it firmly in her own.
"Please? make sure she? the baby?" Talking, or trying to, sent a white hot agony raging through her chest like stampeding horses and Amarice's eyes closed as she passed out momentarily. They fluttered open again to see the younger amazon nodding as the tears continued to stream down her cheeks, leaving clean, wet trails across her grime smeared face.
Taking a deep unsteady breath Amarice's bloody lips parted, "tell Yakut?" she began, but her breath faded on her lover's name.
Uncurling her friend's fingers, Raeyen took hold of the necklace.
Refusing to allow any of the other amazons to take Amarice, Raeyen found herself riding Eponin with her friend's body resting against her chest. With her left hand she held the reins in a painfully tight grip, which coupled with the blood loss from her wound left only a numb feeling in her fingers. The other hand lay against Amarice, who the girl held as though she still cradled a wounded friend, not a dead one.
They had met the enemy troops only a candle mark from the village, though travelling back the darkness seemed dense enough to have slowed their progress home. To the young amazon it felt like seasons had passed since Amarice had died and she had lifted the broken body to her horse. Raeyen tried to keep her eyes from drifting to her fiend, but found she couldn't ignore the heavy presence pressed against her own body, nor the faint smell of death and the coldness that had drained away Amarice's life.
Suddenly it all hit Raeyen and she couldn't ride on any longer. A harsh tug on the reins drew a snort of disgust from Eponin but she obediently halted allowing the girl to drop from the saddle.
Raeyen paused only long enough to be sure Amarice's body was safely on the ground before she found herself pitched forward on her knees, retching into the bushes. The girl struggled with the feeling that the entire content of her stomach was being heaved into the foliage, sweat pouring from her in exertion, until finally there was only an empty ache left in its place.
It seemed to be the only feeling left. Then she realised she held Amarice's necklace in her hand. She had to return it to Yakut. Glancing over her shoulder, Raeyen took a steadying breath. She had to take Amarice to Yakut, had to take her home.
Other members of the tribe waited at the village perimeter to meet the returning war party. Raeyen barely took notice of the fallen expressions of those who saw Amarice's body as she slid off Eponin, leaving her grey mount in the care of a red haired woman that approached her, who she recognised as one of the healers.
Kayla managed to catch up with Raeyen at the healer's insistence, reaching out to touch her shoulder. The young woman couldn't make out the words she was saying when she turned to Kayla's concerned expression, but recognised that she wanted to take Amarice from her.
Shrugging the larger warrior off, Raeyen continued towards Yakut and Amarice's hut, near the centre of the village. Though still cradling her fallen sister Raeyen no longer felt the pain from her own wound, hadn't even noticed where bone was visible through flesh past her blood soaked sleeve.
The door was ajar when she finally reached her destination, as though Yakut had expected them to return this way. Raeyen walked in to the Queen's hut to find Yakut waiting silently on the far side of the sleeping chamber. Her eyes seemed sad to the girl but showed no sign of having shed tears. Without a word she placed Amarice gently upon the bed and then turned to the shamaness.
At last her body relented, having returned home and Raeyen's legs gave way beneath her. Yakut caught the girl in her arms, lowering them both to the floor and drawing the young woman into her lap. The light stroke of the Queen's fingers across her brow stirred Raeyen and fighting Yakut's protests that she remain still, she retrieved the necklace and placed it in the hand which lay beside her own.
Yakut stood uneasily beside her lover's body. It wasn't a fear of having to say a final goodbye which stirred her, for she knew she that though the remaining days of the young woman's life would all be touched by mourning, their love would still remain her strength and comfort and she would never say goodbye. Yakut did not doubt that someday she would be reunited with her wife in eternity and they would never be apart again.
For now she it was simply the thought of the funeral pyre's flames stealing Amarice's body from her she could not bear, have to watch as the fire seared the sweet flesh which even in death she worshipped and adored. Without that reality to hold on to she feared she could only believe that what they had shared was merely a dream.
Reaching out hesitantly the shamaness brushed her fingertips over the scar upon Amarice's right forearm. Hazily she remembered how fascinated she had been with the fresh contour when it had first appeared upon her lover's unmarked skin. Through seemingly endless nights she had mapped every part of her partner in her mind only to find with the scar the joy in knowing that the departing seasons would bring changes to them both. Winters would pass, leaving their touch, and Yakut had believed she would be with Amarice to trace the lines of age upon her face by dimming firelight.
Beside Amarice now and trailing fingertips lightly upon her cheek, tears began to spill from Yakut's eyes, though she knew Amarice wouldn't want her to cry. She could still recall when the auburn haired amazon had confided in her lover that even the tears which filled Yakut's eyes the day they were bonded had almost broken her heart, if it hadn't of been for the sweet smile upon the young Queen's face and her shining eyes.
Placing her shaking hand above the warrior's heart, Yakut silently whispered to her fallen consort, promising she would smile again soon. 'I'm sorry? but it's too? just too painful,' she barely breathed.
Her lips moved vaguely but her words were for Amarice alone, echoing through eternity, 'I need you. I can't do this without you.'
Silently behind her the tanned hides which covered the doorway were lifted to allow Raeyen entrance. Though, upon seeing Yakut she hung there a moment, her right hand clasping the leather as though it would keep her from going further. Watching the elder amazon standing motionless beside Amarice's body she willed her muscles to relax and her grip on the animal skins fell loose, her palm lightly sweeping the soft material.
The girl walked quietly through the hut to the shamaness, placing a hand lightly upon Yakut's shoulder. Stiffening slightly at the touch, Yakut turned to face her friend with misted vision. Tears stained the rims of her eyes scarlet and their trails had left her skin raw. Raeyen reached out to run her finger against her Queen's moist cheek, wishing there was more she could offer than a simple touch for comfort.
'It's time,' she whispered.
Her voice was hushed as though talking too loudly might wake Amarice from a light sleep. With that thought she spared a glance at her fallen friend an teacher, then turned away quickly as the sight brought back only the memories of carrying dead weight and the smell of death upon her skin.
Yakut saw the hurt in Raeyen's eyes and took her chin in her hands, guiding their eyes to meet.
A faint, pained smile touched her lips as she spoke, 'It's time.'
Together they left the hut and Amarice's body to the attendance of the four other amazons who would carry her remains to the funeral pyre, to her final resting place. Raeyen had already carried the burden of bringing Amarice back home and now Yakut would bear the sweet burden of Amarice's love in her heart.